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    Confederate POW letter group

    Confederate Soldier and POW Grouping of Seventeen Letters by J.A. Thomas of Tennessee, writing to his family in Tennessee from various locations, including seven letters as a POW in Camp Morton. Seventeen letters, totaling 42 pages written on various sizes, from small bifolia (4.5" x 7") to tall folio (8" x 12"). The letters span the years 1861 through 1864, and all but one are written while Thomas is on parole, awaiting parole, fleeing from Union capture, or imprisoned. Thomas is captured at least three times, including at the Battle of Parker's Cross Roads, and at the Battle of Shelbyville. Writing from "Walnut Hill near Midway" on July 24, 1862: "I am on parole now and do not know when I will have to report. I will be taken to Louisville from here. Our whole command I understand is captured but there may be a great deal of exaggeration in the reports we receive..." Seven months later he writes from aboard the steamer Golden Era on the Ohio River, describing his escape from Union forces: "I was captured on 31st December 1862 at Parkers Cross Roads and taken from thence to Cairo and kept there to days in a hog pen and suffered greatly. Thence we were taken to Vicksburg but were ordered back and taken to Saint Louis... We were crowded to death the dead and the dying lying together. We were four days going up and I ate raw meat and hard crackers and slept on a plank the whole time... At Saint Louis Billy Ross, John Mushkin (both of Nashville) myself and three others took French leave by seizing a boat and making off with it. We were not fired on although our operations were watched by a score of or fellow prisoners who cheered our success. Then we managed to raise $5 and put up at a hotel... We started from there and walked to Alton 26 miles sleeping all night in a hollow log..." Along the way they receive aid and asylum from various sympathizers, friends and family, and eventually pass through Illinois and Indiana. His letter continues: "The feeling against the government in Illinois and Indiana are very strong. In the former state we boldly proclaimed what we were in two different places and although we were objects of curiosity we received the kindest treatment and when we left we did so with many prayers for our success. The Democrats will rile both states and the presence of troops will be required to keep them under. They openly denounce Lincoln and swear he shall not get another man or another dollar from them. They declare they will resist the draft and it reminds me much of the opening scenes of this grand tragedy in our own state..."

    Tennessee was much divided in its sympathies during the War, and these divisions occurred even within families as was the case in the Thomas family. In a letter dated July 16, 1863, Thomas writes to his father of his capture at Shelbyville: "Shelbyville July 16 1863... I was taken prisoner on Monday week at 2 O'clock in the morning and am now out on parole. From fear of recapture we were all paroled and I will go up to Woodford before I report for exchange... I would have come home had it not been for Martial law in Louisville but I had not even the remotest idea of the real state of affairs... Pa let me know exactly how you stand now. I am a Confederate soldier. Are you willing to support a government that would arm a negro to fight me. Are you willing to give support to the most imbecile most corrupt most tyrannical Military Despotism that ever existed? I am satisfied that you have seen the cloven foot..."

    Thomas' next six letters are written over the next three months, while staying with various family members in Indiana; he writes home with nostalgia and struggles with wanting to return but is unwilling to take the oath of allegiance: "Walnut Hill... July 24 1863... Could Pa arrange with the authorities to allow me to remain in Nashville without requiring anything further than my parole of honor which I have already given I will come home. Without this I would not attempt it for I would be arrested... " His letters provide a great narrative for the political discord that all families and communities lived with. His letters are filled with family news but also great detail of the various sentiments in the community: "Lewis Vigo Co Ind Aug 26th 1863... I arrived here at Uncle Johns' on Monday evening and have seen all the relatives except Uncle Claibe... Mr Becket and Mr Bauman from Mount Gileead [sic] live close to here, and the whole neighborhood has been settled by people from Ky and the slave states. Consequently I find them all opposed to this 'abolition war' firm in their belief that the South can never be conquered and that this government (the northern government) is fast tending to a military despotism where one man will sway the power and where right and justice will not be respected. They declare that if drafted they will die rather than serve in the army. A good many arrest of 'Sympathizers' have been made and the most bitter feeling prevails among the two parties. So you can see that ramifications of the real Union party exists all over the US..." From Sullivan County, Indiana, he writes: "Sept 3 1863... There is a great deal of excitement here and the first symptoms of an extension of the strife now desolating our own beloved state are making their appearance. Soldiers are garrisoned in all the towns and the 'Union Leage' [sic] an abolition organization have been armed by the administration and are faithfully carrying out the behests of their masters by making arrests of the Democrats. The latter of course are making efforts to resist their oppressions never having fancied heretofore that the 'government' would think of trying to crush out the liberty of any body north of the Ohio..." A few days later he writes: "Sept 8 1863... Disturbances will be rife here and if Honest Abraham attempts to preserve 'the purity of the ballot box' as he did in Kentucky he will brew a storm difficult to quell... I never of my free will desired to renounce my government. I wished to make an arrangement with the authorities not to give it any further aid if they would grant my demand. I cannot perjure myself. For them and their devilish cause I only cherish feelings of such hatred..."

    Thomas must have been arrested shortly thereafter; the last seven letters in the group are written from Camp Morton, a POW camp in Indianapolis. In addition to requests for clothing and blankets, his letters send news of fellow prisoners, and are sprinkled with political commentary: "Camp Morton Sept 26 1863... Who do you uphold in this crisis Mc[Clellan] or Lincoln? We are generally for Old Abe here believing his election will bring about that great desideratum 'a fire in the rear.' and I believe he will be elected. We hear that the Enrollment act of Andys is creating great excitement especially among the deserters from out army..." Another letter tells: "Dec 15, 1863... Great numbers of prisoners here are taking the oath. Perhaps over 2000 of the number confined here have made application to be released on that condition. One or two Nashville boys will take it... I do not expect to see the dear old 'City of Rocks' for a long time..." The last letter in the group is dated September 23, 1864, and Thomas remains in Camp Morton; and based on his resolve, it is possible he remained there until the final release of all Confederates in June 1865.

    Condition: Condition varies, with some wear and small separations occurring at folds. Overall very good with even toning and complete.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2016
    5th Tuesday
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